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What is a microplastic? How big is the glitter microplastic pollution problem?

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What is a microplastic?

A microplastic is a small piece of plastic, less than 5mm.  These can originate from larger plastic objects like bottles and other packaging breaking down in the environment, microplastics from this source are known as secondary microplastic.  However, some cases plastic can enter the environment already small enough to be a microplastic, these are known as primary microplastics.   Examples of primary microplastics include; wash fibres from man-made fabrics, weathering of exterior coatings and the most significant contributor and probably least spoken about; vehicle tyre dust.  Vehicle tyre dust is a surprise to most, however, tyres wear down as they are used creating dust.

The issue with microplastics is that they can attract toxic chemicals in the environment, acting as a sponge that can concentrate these chemicals and can enter the food chain.

Click here to view a video CNN published on ‘What is a microplastic?’ 

As traditional plastic based glitter is small, typically less than 5mm in size, it’s considered a primary microplastic.  This, combined with how glitter is used in some applications can contribute to microplastic pollution. Glitters used in single use applications were it can easily find its way into the environment such as; cosmetics, flower decoration, card printing, kids craft, paint and gift wrap, are of particular concern.


How big is the glitter microplastic pollution problem?

It’s important to be mindful that the extent of glitter pollution is small in comparison to the other forms of primary microplastic marine pollution, ie plastic that enter the oceans as microplastics such as; vehicle tyre dust, wash fibres from man-made fabrics and the weathering of exterior coatings to name a few.  It’s even smaller when secondary microplastics, those generated through the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic pollution, are taken into consideration.

From a recent National Geographic article “So while there is evidence of accumulation of microplastics in general and evidence of harm from lab studies, there is a lack of clear evidence specifically on glitter,” says Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth in western Britain and a leading expert on microplastics. “We have microplastic particles in around one third of the 500 fish we examined in the English Channel, but we did not find any glitter.”

Needless to say glitter is still a microplastic and no matter how big or small the potential issue, it still needs addressing.  Hence our passion to offer credible eco-friendly glitter alternatives and our driving to remove all plastic in our Bioglitter® products.